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Reducing sodium intake could save more lives, money than treating related disease, study finds

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By Elizabeth Crawford


Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Ambitious sodium reduction targets for the next two and 10 years laid out by FDA in draft voluntary guidance released last summer not only could save lives, but they could generate huge cost savings based on new research published this week in The BMJ. 

US and UK based researchers led by Tufts University in Boston modeled the costs and health effects of a range of sodium reduction targets in 183 countries over 10 years and found “soft regulation” policy intervention, such as FDA’s draft guidance paired with consumer education to reduce sodium use at home, to be “highly cost effective in nearly every country in the world.”

After taking into account local prices, currencies and purchasing power, they found “hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of [years lost due to ill-health] were estimated to be potentially averted annually, at low cost,” according to the study

Worldwide, the researchers found a 10% reduction in salt consumption over 10 years within each country could reduce 5.8 million days lost to ill health related to heart disease, which other studies connect to high sodium intake. They also found the intervention could save an average of $204 international per year lost to ill-health avoided and I$1.13 per person per country.

These savings exceed those of drug intervention in many countries and are a sliver of the cost to implement, according to the research.

For example, it notes, “‘best buy’ pharmacological interventions to reduce cardio-vascular disease in high income countries have much higher estimated cost effectiveness ratios, such as I$21,000 per [year lost to ill health] or more for primary prevention with statin drugs” compared to I$465 per year lost to ill health for sodium reduction.

Thus, they conclude “a national reduction in sodium intake is a ‘best buy’ for governments, deserving careful consideration for adoption.”

The finding adds weight to the benefit and urgency of manufacturers and suppliers rising to meet the reduction goals outlined in FDA’s draft sodium reduction guidance released last summer

In that document, FDA outlines suggested sodium reduction targets in major packaged food categories with the ultimate goal of reducing the average American’s sodium intake 11.8% to 3,000 mg per day and by 23.3% to 2,3000 mg per day in 10 years.

The guidance generated praise from several stakeholders, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest , but prompted others, such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association , to ask for more time to comply. 

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